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To be explored through a major new digitisation project

Prince Albert's papers in the Royal Archives

During the early years of his marriage to Queen Victoria, Prince Albert had a difficult balancing act to perform, for despite his energy and acumen, he was also sensitive to his constitutional position as consort to the Queen.  Prince Albert's papers tell us about his wide range of interests including in art, history, innovation and technology, and how he allied them to the public and private ambitions he had for the British monarchy, without encroaching on his wife's position.

One of the earliest areas of public life in which Prince Albert found a role was that of art. As President of the Fine Arts Commission he oversaw the interior decoration of the Palace of Westminster, which was being rebuilt after the devastating fire of 1834. He saw this as an opportunity to revitalise British history painting and to introduce fresco techniques to Britain. This was based upon his assessment of Renaissance art as representing the high point of European aesthetic achievement. Prince Albert provided leadership and inspired the Great Exhibition of 1851, arguably his greatest achievement. This brought together art and industry from Britain and its empire alongside contributions from many other countries across the globe, creating the first global trade fair, an attraction visited by over 6 million people in just six months. As part of this digitisation project, the papers of the 1851 Commission and Albert's own documents about the enterprise will be reunited online.

The legacy of the Great Exhibition: plan for South Kensington museum district Royal Archives/ © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

As Prince Albert's interest in innovation became more widely known, so his public role developed. He was interested in all kinds of technical developments, whether for the Royal farms in England, German railways, or military technology for the British armed forces. Albert's public role also grew as he supported Queen Victoria in carrying out her official governmental duties, becoming her unofficial private secretary. There are some files of official papers which can be clearly identified as Prince Albert's own, as his relationships with politicians developed and he felt more able to act in support of the monarchy on his own account.

Papers in the Royal Archives illuminate our understanding of Prince Albert's collecting and commissioning activities and the development of his patronage of the arts, science and technology in Victorian Britain. The papers also provide evidence for the value which the Prince placed upon domestic life with his beloved and growing family.

Albert corresponded extensively with family members and worried about the education of his children. He was also key in shaping the spaces where they lived, especially regarding the purchases of Osborne House and Balmoral as private residences. Prince Albert also created the filing system by which Queen Victoria's papers were arranged, annotating many of her documents to highlight key correspondents and topics discussed. His conscientious and energetic commitment to family life, improving society at large and securing the monarchy is evident across many documents in the Victorian Papers.